Electrotherapy





The great development of pseudo-science in medicine remained for the

era following the scientific investigation of electricity. With the

discovery of the Leyden jar and its startling spark, a new and

marvelous healing agent seemed to be at hand. It is quite amusing to

read the accounts of the influence of the spark of the Leyden jar on

the well and on the ailing. In my "Catholic Churchmen in Science"

(Dolphin Press, Phila., 1909) I summed up the situation.



Winckler of Leipzig said that the first time he tried the jar, he

found great convulsions by it in his body; it put his blood into

great agitation; he was afraid of an ardent fever, and was obliged

to use refrigerating medicines. He felt a heaviness in his head as

if a stone lay upon it. Twice it gave him a bleeding at the nose.

After the second shock his wife could scarcely walk, and, though a

week later, her curiosity stronger than her fears, she tried it once

more, it caused her to bleed at the nose after taking it only once.

Many men were terrified by it, and even serious professors describe

entirely imaginary symptoms. The jar was taken around Europe for

exhibition purposes, and did more to awaken popular interest than

all the publications of the learned with regard to electricity, in

all the preceding centuries.



The extent to which the curative power of electric sparks from the

Leyden jar was supposed to go is best appreciated from a list of the

affections that one distinguished electro-therapeutist claimed could

be not only benefited, but absolutely cured by its employment. It

included pulmonic fever, under which title practically all the more or

less acute diseases of the chest were included, and some at least of

the sub acute; dropsy, by which was meant every effusion into the

abdominal cavity no matter what its cause; dysentery, under which was

included at that time not only the specific dysenteries but many of

the summer complaints and some typhoid fevers; diarrhea, including all

the intestinal diseases not already grouped under dysentery; putrid

and bilious fever, under which category were assembled the worst cases

of typhoid; typhus fever, and all the other continued fevers, and

any febrile condition reasonably severe for which no other term could

be used; epidemic diseases, pest, anthrax, small-pox, cancer, gravel,

diseases of the bladder and of the brain and spinal cord. The Leyden

jar had no real effect on any of these affections, but doubtless the

mental effect of this new remedy was quite sufficient to be of

distinct therapeutic value in the milder forms of many of them.



With Galvani's discovery of the twitching of the muscles of the frog

there came a new impetus to the exploitation of electricity in

medicine. Many felt that now it was beyond doubt that electrical

energy bore some definite relation to vital energy--that one might be

made to replace the other if indeed they were not more or less the

same thing. This led to many applications of electricity in medicine.

Students of physiology were convinced that they were getting close to

the solution of the mystery of life, and their persuasion was readily

carried over to the people of the time, so that electricity literally

worked wonders on them.



When the various electrical machines were invented and their use

popularized, pseudo-science proceeded to exploit them, and succeeded,

because the mechanical shock of the electric current proved a

suggestive therapeutic stimulant. Gordon in the eighteenth century

made the first practical frictional electrical machine, and soon some

men were observing wonderful effects with it, though the charge was so

small that it could actually accomplish little. Just after the

invention of the voltaic pile in 1800 it came to be used in medicine

with wonderful results. We are prone to think that electrotherapy is

modern, but when electrical machines were quite crude, current

strength small and potential low, old-time electro-therapeutists were

recording their wonderful results and were getting just as marvelous

effects as are reported now by enthusiasts. Considerable

electro-medical literature existed a century ago when next to nothing

was known of electricity. When, later, high potency currents came in

and the Wimshurst and other powerful machines were invented, there was

revealed at each novel invention a new horizon in electro-therapy and

wondrous cures were reported. These continue to occur in the practice

of a few favored individuals, though the general profession secures

only some ordinary mechanico-muscular effects, which demand much time

for real good to be accomplished and have nothing at all of the

marvelous about them.



The power of the pseudo-scientific aspect of electricity to influence

patients, far from being lost in our time, has rather been increased.

Our newspapers make their readers eminently suggestible because they

constantly furnish suggestions, and nothing so strengthens a function

of any kind as exercise of it. All sorts of electrical contrivances

and apparatuses are advertised to cure various pains and aches. Many

of them actually seem to relieve long-standing discomfort, though it

is not through any electrical power that they do so, but entirely

through their influence on the patient's mind. A museum of the

electrical contrivances of various kinds for which absurdly high

prices are paid at the present time and which people recommend to

others because of having been benefited by them would be interesting.

There are belts of many kinds, and rings, and medallions, and plates

to be worn on the back and on the chest, and curiously shaped poles or

"polar plates" resembling various organs, and pendants and armlets and

anklets and insoles of many, many kinds, usually going in pairs,

one made in zinc and the other in copper, and worth exactly as much as

the weight of copper and zinc in them, yet curing chronic ailments by

suggestion, or at least bringing relief from many pains and aches

complained of.





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